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Food shortages are driving opposition forces in southern Sudan to abandon training camps

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Lack of food and medical supplies has prompted hundreds of opposition fighters in southern Sudan to leave training camps set up for registration and training under an agreement to end the war in that country, authorities said.

One of the pillars of the peace agreement reached in September 2018 is the process of gathering combatants in camps to form a unified army of 83,000 soldiers.

However, this process experienced delays and funding shortfalls that hampered the readiness of the troops.

The problem is a major obstacle as the 12 November deadline for President Salva Kiir and his rival, Riek Machar, and other militia leaders to form a power-sharing government approaches.

At one of the largest opposition gathering sites in the village of Bantit near the northern town of Aweil, hundreds of soldiers sleep under trees and have to sleep with locals in their mud huts, known as “tukol”, when it rains.

General Nicodemus Dingding, who is in charge of the camp, told AFP they had not received food supplies for more than two months. “We ran out of food and now we have no food left,” Deng said, adding that about 700 registered soldiers had left the camp because of the circumstances.

“We live on the food of the local people, go farming with them and collect peanuts from their farms as a way to survive.”

Under the peace deal, half of the 83,000 troops will be barracks, trained and deployed by September 2019.

Last week, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee charged with overseeing the implementation of the peace agreement said that of the 25 opposition rally sites, only 24 were operational and of 10 government barracks, of which only six were operational.

However, registration continued and training had not yet begun.

– Despair and anger.

William Gallagher, head of the ceasefire monitoring body, told AFP during a visit to Bantet that troops had been registered there. “Unfortunately, many of the soldiers who have been registered have since fled because of unacceptable living conditions,” he said.

“ It is a very serious problem that thousands and thousands of soldiers and their families are now facing all over South Sudan at the assembly sites, they are without food, most without water, all lack all forms of medicine and are desperate and angry and see no solution to the problem. ”

Japan and China have donated money to bring water and rice to the gathering sites, but Western donors have refused to fund the operation as diplomats fear it will be used for recruitment and because of lack of financial transparency in Juba.

At the same time, the situation in the barracks has put pressure on communities that themselves find it difficult to survive.

“There are soldiers here, they don’t have water to drink, they don’t have containers to collect water, but we are the hosts as well,” said 50-year-old Bajit resident Ajok.

The war in South Sudan, which erupted after two years of independence in 2011 after the dispute between Kiir and Machar, killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced about 4 million others.

The ICRC said last week that despite improved food security, more than half of the population remained hungry and millions were dependent on food aid.

Machar arrived in Juba on Saturday for another round of talks with Kiir in a bid to salvage the peace deal and resolve the security issue and the thorny issue of determining the number and limits of states.

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